‘Disruptive technology’ is a buzzword used all too often between app developers and tech investors in search of the next big thing that could change the status quo. Yet the ecosystem often overlooks the untapped potential of international development apps, initiatives and web platforms that work towards achieving the global Sustainable Development Goals. The accelerated growth in use of mobile phones in developing countries presents a valuable market opportunity for these developers to address global issues through innovative, impactful, scalable and sustainable solutions similar to the ones below.
More and more, the private sector is able to become a driver in the development process. Businesses are starting to realise that it is possible to do good business whilst having a positive social and economic impact on the country’s economy.
So, let’s see who these companies are.
A social enterprise that leverages a global mobile SMS platform to support commerce in third world markets by digitizing the street vending industry and making it a global conduit of prosperity. Street vendors can upload photos of their products online via mobile so that a traveling consumer can search, purchase, and pay for an item via SMS. Local agents then deliver the product to the consumer’s hotel during their stay.
Using their platform, they aim to empower 1 million street vendors across 100 countries in the Caribbean, Central America, South America, Middle East and Africa, in the next 10 years.
Stand4 is a social good app that connects individuals, charities and corporations by encouraging its users to take stands for their favourite causes. Users have the option to donate, volunteer, or perform sponsored stands.
What sets it apart from most charitable apps is the implementation of a monitoring process in a simplistic platform. The result of a stand is tracked and captured so that at any moment, one can see all the lives they’ve touched, problems they’ve helped solve, and overall impact they’ve made on the world.
What started off as a micro-loan project within rural communities in Kenya has now become a multi-country mobile cash transfer system that has both revolutionised and accelerated financial inclusion for the unbanked. Users of M-PESA, which account for two-thirds of the adult Kenyan population, can do everything from buying groceries to paying utility bills, taxi fares and school fees, transferring money to family members or even purchasing airline tickets, all from their mobile, and without the need for a bank account.
“Ushahidi”, which means “testimony” in Swahili, is a non-profit tech company that specializes in developing free and open source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping. They work to create products and initiatives that democratize information, increase transparency and lower barriers for individuals to share their stories. The pilot project collaborated with citizen journalists who could submit incident reports of violence and peace processes through web and mobile platforms, during the Kenyan post-election conflict in 2008.
Using a web-based mobile platform, Totohealth presents a valuable resource for parents in marginalised communities who have no access to medical facilities. They send expecting parents information tailored towards the health of the child and the mother, catered to help detect childhood abnormalities in children right from early stage pregnancies up to 5 years old. They have registered more than 3,000 mothers and 500 community health volunteers and reduced infant mortality from 31% to 18% in a community during their pilot project alone.
Magpi is the longest running data collection technology in international development and is widely used in the global health and development sectors. Their platform enables organisations in need of surveys, inspections, compliance audits, research, supply chain management, geo-data information collection and other forms to simply create a mobile form then deploy it in minutes to any device.
Several government agencies and non-profit organizations used its technology in the fight against Ebola for contact tracing, identification of bodies, lab reporting, health supply tracking, and other purposes.
Over 35,000 users in 170+ countries have used Magpi, including organizations like the World Bank, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Red Cross.
RapidSMS is an initiative by UNICEF that provides a scalable SMS-based open-source framework for dynamic data collection, logistics coordination and communication. The platform has been adapted and implemented with diverse functionality: remote health diagnostics, nutrition surveillance, supply chain tracking, registering children in public health campaigns, and community discussion.
In Uganda, U-Report serves as a platform to accelerate youth community engagement through SMS-based reporting. In Zambia, the platform uses an SMS based service to link users to the resources of the National AIDS Council. Those who are at an increased risk tend to have the least access to information or counselling services. UNICEF and the Ministry of Health used the SMS application to spread awareness about the disease.
Voluntary testing among U-reporters rose to 40 per cent, significantly higher than the 24 per cent national average, since its launch in 2012.
Stringwire is a live video streaming service that crowd-sources user-generated content from eyewitnesses at the scene of breaking news. It provides the tools to create content, find people close to the action, push requests to users on the ground and share their videos through social media channels.
Without a dedicated app, the service will start streaming live video to NBC. The video submissions will be assessed just like any other material used by the network. Recently, Stringwire was used to stream live from Ferguson through the perspective of citizens.
Using a worldwide database and any SMS-capable mobile phone, Refunite aims to reconnect refugees and internally displaced people with their lost family members. The platform has proven essential during a time where the migrant crisis remains rampant in the Middle East and North African regions. The independent organisation currently has projects in 9 countries: Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Somalia, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Philippines.
The diversity of social causes in the international development arena allows app developers to produce tools that are vital in solving global problems through grassroots solutions- changing the way we talk about disruption.